It wasn’t pretty but it was a win that Michigan needed badly.
Several of the same problems that have plagued the Wolverines this season were present once again but Michigan finally found a way to win a close game down the stretch. The Wolverines let another lead slip away late, struggled to defend in transition and were forced into a nail biter despite seemingly controlling the game from the opening minutes.
Michigan took the lead with 14:42 to play in the first half and would never give it back but never pulled away. The Cardinal managed to hang around just close enough and cut the lead to a single possession twice in the final minute of play despite trailing by double digits with 7:30 to play. With the game on the line, Michigan’s most experienced players answered the call down the stretch. Glenn Robinson III drove the ball from the high post for a layup and Nik Stauskas buried a pair of free throws to seal the win.
The win won’t eliminate Michigan’s faults but the Wolverines finally conquered some adversity to hold onto a victory down the stretch. The Wolverines were shorthanded without Mitch McGary and beat a good Stanford squad on a ‘neutral’ court in Brooklyn. Considering it was just Michigan’s second win over a team with a winning record this season, the result was a positive step in the right direction.
Michigan managed 1.05 points per possession, its least efficient offensive output in a win this season, thanks to timely shooting and a lot of free throws. Michigan gave the ball away on just 12% of its possessions but struggled with its perimeter shooting, going just 8-of-27 from long range. While 52% of Michigan’s field goal attempts were from 3-point range, it was still aggressive attacking the basket. Michigan attempted 26 free throws and was 13-of-25 (52%) from inside the arc. That’s not the mark of a team that just fired up threes but the offense was very reliant on the secondary break. The box score credits Michigan with just four fast break points but the Wolverines were undoubtedly at their best pushing the ball and exploiting Stanford in unsettled defensive situations.
Stanford scored 1.01 points per trip and while there were certainly flaws with Michigan’s defensive performance, there were also some positives. The Wolverines dominated on the defensive glass, rebounding over 80% of Stanford’s misses and allowing just seven second chance points. The Cardinal shot 40% from three-point range but only attempted 10 triples. The Wolverine defense struggled much more with Stanford’s interior attack. The Cardinal scored 34 points in the paint and forced Michigan’s big men to be whistled for 14 fouls. Stanford attempted 18 free throws in the second half, compared to just two in the first, and those freebies almost enabled a comeback. Chasson Randle scored 18 points in the second half after going scoreless in the first and the Wolverines didn’t have an answer for his penetration.
There’s no sugar coating it: Michigan needed this game. It wasn’t a great performance but it was good enough and provides a valuable opportunity to build some momentum. With Holy Cross next weekend and then a critical trip to Minnesota before a couple more winnable conference games, the Wolverines will need to build on this win and try to start Big Ten play with some victories before the conference schedule heats up.
- Glenn Robinson III: Things are slowly starting to click for Robinson. He’s getting the ball in spots that he’s comfortable more often and he’s making plays. He set the tone early with his aggressive offense and had a huge isolation drive at the top of the key when he was forced to play the five spot in the final minute. He grabbed six rebounds (2 offensive), handed out two assists, grabbed a steal and didn’t turn the ball over. obinson handled the ball more than he has this season and looked very comfortable pushing the pace off of defensive rebounds. The 4-of-8 free throw shooting was the only major complaint in his 17 point effort.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas was very effective attacking and driving against the Stanford defense. He forced some jumpshots at times but that aggressiveness was necessary as Michigan’s offense seemed to stagnate at times. A couple times he even held his own against much bigger Stanford players on the low block. His shooting from the floor was a bit off but he carried Michigan in the second half with 14 points.
- Zak Irvin: It’s very difficult to decipher ‘good shots’ and ‘bad shots’ for Zak Irvin. His ability to create space for his jumpshot at virtually any point on the floor is both a gift and a curse – and he doesn’t usually shoot better on open shots. Irvin’s 12 points on 4-of-9 (4-of-8) shooting and six rebounds (2 offensive) were a huge boost off the bench. He looks significantly more confident than he did a month ago and is slowly starting to grow into his own. He needs to fire away with no conscience when he’s on the floor because that’s his game and that’s what he can bring to this team.
- Derrick Walton: Once again, Walton never quite looked comfortable. He fumbled a fast break early on but did knock down a pair of jumpers in the second half. The bottom line is that Michigan needs more than 1 assist from its starting point guard. Albrecht only had two assists in this game but Michigan needs Walton to continue to grow into his role – and quickly.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert struggled with his shot (0-of-7) both inside, where he was often blocked at the rim, and outside (0-3pt). He made up for his poor shooting night with some other nice plays. He handed out five assists (doing a great job in the middle of the 2-3 zone), had a huge chase down block late in the second half, picked up two steals and four defensive boards.
- Jordan Morgan: Jordan Morgan battled and without him Michigan doesn’t win this game. Morgan’s role has been reduced but he was ready to go with McGary sidelined and Horford on the bench with fouls. He still had some patented Morgan-plays – rebounding his own missed layup for a putback – but he was very tough inside and helped Michigan on both ends. He took a charge, grabbed six rebounds and scored eight points.
- Jon Horford: Horford was whistled for five fouls in six minutes. He picked up two fouls (one on each end) early in the game by putting both hands on the back of a Stanford player and shoving. He had a great assist against the zone late in the second half but wasn’t able to stay on the floor long enough to make a major impact.
- Spike Albrecht: Spike had a great assist along the baseline for a dunk against the zone and also hit a huge three with 7:30 to play. He had a quiet night and also failed to pick up his man in transition after Robinson’s basket to stretch Michigan’s lead to four points in the final minute.
- Max Bielfeldt; Bielfeldt was thrown into the fire and was clearly overmatched but helped on consecutive defensive stops in the second half: getting fouled going for a defensive rebound and forcing at travel providing help defense.